“In a world where you can be anything, be kind” – Unknown
Sharing our holiday to Normandy to celebrate the 75th anniversary of D-Day would not be complete without highlighting the main reason we visited; to follow a very personal war story belonging to Matt’s Grandad. Here, we’ll share a brief history of what happened on the beaches of Normandy, alongside our first hand advice and tips on how to follow a veteran’s D-Day war story.
What Happened On The Beaches Of Normandy?
The Normandy beaches were used in WW2 for landing allied troops into occupied France in an operation named Overlord. There are five along the Normandy coastline that were involved in large parts of the operation; namely Sword, Juno, Omaha, Utah and Gold.
Larger proportions of certain allied nationalities landed on some beaches, hence each one is typically referred to as having been a British, Canadian or American beach. In actual fact, a mixture of allied nationalities landed on all of the beaches of Normandy, both on D-Day, the 6th of June 1944, and afterwards. These well-known beach names were code names so areas that they each cover actual contain multiple, locally-named, French beaches.
Taking A Holiday To Normandy – Visiting Now
There are many ways to enjoy the beaches of Normandy now as part of your holiday. Visit them all and notice the variations. From typical seaside restaurants and shops at Sword beach to the incredible bunker tours at Juno, each beach is definitely worth a visit if you have the time. When it comes to staying on or near the beaches, the best option for a holiday to Normandy is to camp at Omaha beach.
You’ll find our Normandy beach camping recommendation and more useful information for Planning a Normandy Road Trip in our brand new blog – coming soon!
You may also like these 10 best things to do in Normandy.
How To Follow A Veteran’s D-Day War Story
Many people plan to visit Normandy because of a keen interest, are passing through the area or would like to learn more about D-Day. But, if like us, you are taking a holiday to Normandy because you have a member of the family who was involved in the D-Day landings, we’ll share with you our top tips for following a D-Day veteran’s war story.
Before You Start Planning Your Normandy Trip
Firstly, it is important to obtain as much information before you plan your travel to Normandy, learning about where your father, grandfather or great grandfather went during their time in the army. Speak to family members who may know, ask living veterans if you are fortunate enough to know one or check any personal belongings of theirs you or a family member may have that detail their movements during the war.
Look out for badges that help pinpoint the battles they were part of, service books that detail actual dates and locations and anything more personal like postcards, letters and photographs that give locations and dates away.
It is also possible to apply for war records of the veteran you are tracing if you are a direct descendent. If you are not, you can ask another family member to do this for you. A small fee of £30 applies.
We traced Matt’s Grandad’s movements as closely as possible before our Normandy visit but we are still finding information now that would take us a different way, to a different town or along a different route. Try not to get frustrated if it’s hard to locate someone’s precise movements.
Army records can omit certain information, especially if there was an element of secrecy to the operation or event your veteran was involved in. You will also find that records of certain battles and regiments are limited or non-existent. This can be due to the commanding officer who was responsible for recording them, sadly being the first target for enemy soldiers. Subsequently, the details of dates and whereabouts of regiments often got destroyed or lost.
Planning Your Normandy Route
Once you have some information regarding where and when your veteran travelled, start plotting a rough itinerary for your holiday to Normandy that follows in their footsteps, stopping in the places you know your veteran was and if possible, taking a similar path.
Allow extra time wherever possible and avoid locking too much in. This way, if you want to move things around once you’re in Normandy, or change your direction of travel if you discover different information, you can. We certainly did!
For a trip like this one, we were so pleased to have used booking.com with their wide range of free cancellation hotels and campsites.
Regiments are important. If you can find a specific regiment that your veteran was attached to, you can more easily discover where they landed and what route inland they took. D-Day was one day but the battle for Normandy continued long after 6th June.
The Most Useful Questions To Ask
Helpful questions to consider when planning a Normandy itinerary that follows in the footsteps of a D-Day veteran would be:
- What date did your veteran come ashore in Normandy and on which beach? Bad weather caused some boats to turn around and wait out at sea, meaning the date they had planned to come ashore on could have been pushed back.
- Your veteran likely moved towards Caen after the beaches were captured but in which direction did their regiment get instructed to move?
- Did your veteran change regiments during their time in Normandy? This was not uncommon if regiments in one area had their numbers depleted by battle and new groups needed to be formed.
- After the battle for Caen, where in Europe did your veteran get sent next?
The war ended over a year after D-Day so there may be a huge amount of the story that you do not know and uncovering it whilst on a Normandy holiday is extremely exciting.
Don’t Be Disheartened If It’s Not Easy
Bear in mind that the big museums and memorials will have more information about the bloodiest battles, the troops who first came ashore on the beaches of Normandy and the most momentous turning points for winning the war. More often than not, they do not cover the regiments that came ashore after 6th June, the smaller battles with fewer casualties or the smaller wins that took place in the multiple villages and towns of Normandy.
For this reason, we recommend you seek out the smaller cemeteries and villages between the beaches of Normandy and Caen. They each have incredibly interesting war history and far more personal stories to tell. For example, we found a cemetery in Cambes-en-Plaine that was the resting place of a significant number of Matt’s Grandad’s original regiment who he trained with in the U.K. before departing for the beaches of Normandy.
We’re still trying to figure out if Grandad was with them on the date they all share on their graves, or whether he had already been assigned to a new regiment at this time.
Unravelling a D-Day War Story
Finally, it’s important to do as much research as possible, not trusting just one source but continuing to pick up new information as you travel through Normandy and keeping an open mind. Some of the family stories that had been re-told at home about Grandad’s whereabouts, didn’t always match up to the recorded facts we discovered in the museums of Normandy.
Follow the breadcrumbs wherever they lead and avoid getting frustrated when you feel like you hit a dead end – it’s likely to happen, and probably more than once. We can’t recommend highly enough a tailor made Normandy trip to suit your veteran’s personal D-Day war story or your specific war interest – there’s nothing quite like it.
Regardless of whether the battle for Normandy is one close to you and your family’s hearts or whether your holiday to Normandy is an opportunity to simply have a new experience, a visit certainly comes highly recommended from us. In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised if one trip opens up the idea of more.
Learning about the war history of the world by standing in the very places these dark stories took place is both harrowing and chilling, yet oddly comforting and reassuring. When it comes to Matt’s Grandad’s war story, both in Normandy and beyond in other European regions and countries, for us, the adventure continues.
Thank you for reading Following A D-Day War Story – an Armistice Day Special
If you are in the planning stages of your own trip, you may also like our latest blog Planning a Normandy Road Trip for Two
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